In the United States, about 210,000 people are diagnosed with a brain tumor each year, according to the National Brain Tumor Society. Brain tumors are a growth of abnormal cells in the brain, which may originate in the brain (primary brain tumors) or start elsewhere in the body and travel up to the brain (metastatic brain tumors).
Brain tumors can be benign or malignant. For example, meningiomas are usually noncancerous brain tumors.
So if you have a brain tumor, can you travel on an airplane? And are there any risks with air travel for brain tumor patients?
There are indeed risks for patients with brain tumors who fly. Risks may be different for patients who have undergone surgery.
Before traveling, talk to your doctor if air travel will be safe for you.
Swelling in the Brain
The American Society of Clinical Oncology noted that patients who have a brain tumor may not be advised to fly due to a risk of increased swelling in their brains, or cerebral edema.
During flight, air pressure and oxygen levels change when the plane reaches high altitudes. The swelling of the brain increases pressure inside the skull. Symptoms of increased intracranial pressure include headache, decreased consciousness and vomiting.
Lowered Seizure Threshold
Air travel with a brain tumor carries the risk of having a seizure. Seizures are one of the most common symptoms of a brain tumor, according to MedlinePlus.
With a seizure, the patient has abnormal electrical activity in her brain. Depending on the type of seizure that she has, the patient may lose consciousness, have uncontrollable muscle spasms, and fall suddenly.
C.R. Goldberg and A. Hirschfeld, authors of the article “Hemorrhage Within Brain Tumors in Association With Long Air Travel,” noted that the risk for brain tumor patients is two-fold. First, the decreased oxygen in the airplane cabin lowers the seizure threshold. The second risk for patients is the difficulty of handling a seizure in the limited space.